THE VICOMTE DE BRAGELONNE
TEN YEARS LATER
BEING THE COMPLETION OF
"THE THREE MUSKETEERS" AND "TWENTY YEARS AFTER"
* * * * *
Copiously Illustrated with elegant Pen and Ink and Wood Engravings, specially drawn for this edition by eminent French and American Artists.
* * * * *
COMPLETE IN NINE VOLUMES
* * * * *
NEW YORK PETER FENELON COLLIER, PUBLISHER. 1893
* * * * *
THE VICOMTE DE BRAGELONNE.
I. Showing what neither the Naiad nor Dryad had anticipated 5
II. The new General of the Jesuits 9
III. The Storm 14
IV. The Shower of Rain 18
V. Toby 25
VI. Madame's four Chances 29
VII. The Lottery 33
VIII. Malaga 37
IX. A Letter from M. de Baisemeaux 44
X. In which the Reader will be delighted to find that Porthos has lost nothing of his Strength 46
XI. The Rat and the Cheese 55
XII. Planchet's Country-House 59
XIII. Showing what could be seen from Planchet's House 62
XIV. How Porthos, Truechen, and Planchet parted with each other on friendly terms, thanks to D'Artagnan 65
XV. The Presentation of Porthos at Court 67
XVI. Explanations 69
XVII. Madame and Guiche 73
XVIII. Montalais and Malicorne 77
XIX. How De Wardes was received at Court 81
XX. The Combat 87
XXI. The King's Supper 93
XXII. After Supper 96
XXIII. Showing in what way D'Artagnan discharged the Mission with which the King had intrusted him 98
XXIV. The Encounter 101
XXV. The Physician 104
XXVI. Wherein D'Artagnan perceives that it was he who was mistaken, and Manicamp who was right 106
XXVII. Showing the advantage of having two Strings to one's Bow 109
XXVIII. M. Malicorne the Keeper of the Records of the Realm of France 115
XXIX. The Journey 118
XXX. Triumfeminate 121
XXXI. The First Quarrel 124
XXXII. Despair 129
XXXIII. The Flight 132
XXXIV. Showing how Louis, on his side, had passed the time from Ten to half-past Twelve at Night 135
XXXV. The Ambassadors 138
XXXVI. Chaillot 142
XXXVII. Madame 147
XXXVIII. Mademoiselle de la Valliere's Pocket-Handkerchief 151
XXXIX. Which treats of Gardeners, of Ladders, and Maids of Honor 153
XL. Which treats of Carpentry Operations, and furnishes Details upon the Mode of constructing Staircases 157
XLI. The Promenade by Torchlight 161
XLII. The Apparition 166
XLIII. The Portrait 170
XLIV. Hampton Court 174
XLV. The Courier from Madame 180
XLVI. Saint-Aignan follows Malicorne's Advice 185
XLVII. Two Old Friends 188
XLVIII. Wherein may be seen that a Bargain which cannot be made with one Person, can be carried out with Another 196
XLIX. The Skin of the Bear 201
L. An Interview with the Queen-Mother 204
LI. Two Friends 209
LII. How Jean de la Fontaine wrote his first Tale 213
LIII. La Fontaine in the Character of a Negotiator 215
LIV. Madame de Belliere's Plate and Diamonds 219
LV. M. de Mazarin's Receipt 221
LVI. Monsieur Colbert's rough Draft 225
LVII. In which the Author thinks it is now time to return to the Vicomte de Bragelonne 231
LVIII. Bragelonne continues his Inquiries 234
LIX. Two Jealousies 236
LX. A Domiciliary Visit 239
LXI. Porthos' Plan of Action 243
LXII. The Change of Residence, the Trap-Door, and the Portrait 247
LXIII. Rival Politics 253
LXIV. Rival Affections 255
LXV. King and Nobility 259
LXVI. After the Storm 264
LXVII. Heu! Miser! 267
LXVIII. Wounds upon Wounds 269
LXIX. What Raoul had Guessed 272
LXX. Three Guests astonished to find themselves at Supper together 275
LXXI. What took place at the Louvre during the Supper at the Bastille 278
LXXII. Political Rivals 282
LXXIII. In which Porthos is convinced without having understood anything 286
LXXIV. M. de Baisemeaux's "Society" 289
LXXV. The Prisoner 293
LXXVI. How Mouston had become fatter without giving Porthos notice thereof, and of the Troubles which consequently befell that worthy Gentleman 307
LXXVII. Who Messire John Percerin was 311
LXXVIII. The Patterns 315
LXXIX. Where, probably, Moliere formed his first Idea of the Bourgeois Gentilhomme 319
LXXX. The Beehive, the Bees, and the Honey 323
LXXXI. Another Supper at the Bastille 328
LXXXII. The General of the Order 331
LXXXIII. The Tempter 336
LXXXIV. Crown and Tiara 340
LXXXV. The Chateau de Vaux-le-Vicomte 344
LXXXVI. The Wine of Melun 347
LXXXVII. Nectar and Ambrosia 350
LXXXVIII. A Gascon, and a Gascon and a half 352
LXXXIX. Colbert 359
XC. Jealousy 362
XCI. High Treason 366
XCII. A Night at the Bastille 371
XCIII. The Shadow of M. Fouquet 374
XCIV. The Morning 383
XCV. The King's Friend 387
XCVI. Showing how the Countersign was respected at the Bastille 395
XCVII. The King's Gratitude 400
XCVIII. The False King 404
XCIX. In which Porthos thinks he is pursuing a Duchy 409
C. The Last Adieux 412
CI. Monsieur de Beaufort 415
CII. Preparations for Departure 419
CIII. Planchet's Inventory 423
CIV. The Inventory of M. de Beaufort 426
CV. The Silver Dish 429
CVI. Captive and Jailers 433
CVII. Promises 438
CVIII. Among Women 444
CIX. The Last Supper 449
CX. In the Carriage of M. Colbert 453
CXI. The Two Lighters 456
CXII. Friendly Advice 460
CXIII. How the King, Louis XIV., played his little Part 463
CXIV. The White Horse and the Black Horse 468
CXV. In which the Squirrel falls—in which the Adder flies 472
CXVI. Belle-Isle-en-Mer 477
CXVII. The Explanations of Aramis 482
CXVIII. Result of the Ideas of the King, and the Ideas of D'Artagnan 487
CXIX. The Ancestors of Porthos 489
CXX. The Son of Biscarrat 491
CXXI. The Grotto of Locmaria 494
CXXII. The Grotto 497
CXXIII. An Homeric Song 501
CXXIV. The Death of a Titan 504
CXXV. The Epitaph of Porthos 508
CXXVI. The Round of M. de Gesvres 511
CXXVII. King Louis XIV. 514
CXXVIII. The Friends of M. Fouquet 518
CXXIX. Porthos' Will 522
CXXX. The Old Age of Athos 525
CXXXI. The Vision of Athos 527
CXXXII. The Angel of Death 531
CXXXIII. The Bulletin 533
CXXXIV. The last Canto of the Poem 536
THE DEATH OF D'ARTAGNAN 549
* * * * *
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.
I.—Frontispiece.—Hardly had the ladder been properly placed than the king began to ascend.
II.—As the rain dripped more and more through the foliage of the oak, the king held his hat over the head of the young girl.
III.—D'Artagnan, reclining upon an immense straight-backed chair, with his legs not stretched out, but simply placed upon a stool, formed an angle of the most obtuse form that could possibly be seen.
IV.—De Guiche turned round also, and, at the moment the horse was quiet again, he fired, and the ball carried off De Wardes' hat from his head.
V.—Athos broke his sword across his knee, slowly placed the two pieces upon the floor, and saluting the king, who was almost choking from rage and shame, he quitted the cabinet.
VI.—Raoul, presenting his pistol, threw himself on the leader, commanding the coachman to stop.
VII.—Aramis saw that the young man was stretched upon his bed, his face half-concealed by his arms.
VIII.—"You will look through the opening, which answers to one of the false windows made in the dome of the king's apartment. Can you see?"
IX.—"What is this, monsieur, and what is the meaning of this jest?" "It is no jest," replied in a deep voice the masked figure that held the lantern.
X.—The king entered into the cell without pronouncing a single word: he was pale and haggard.
XI.—They saw, by the red flashes of the lightning against the violet fog which the wind stamped upon the bankward sky, they saw pass gravely at six paces behind the governor, a man clothed in black and masked by a visor of polished steel, soldered to a helmet of the same nature, which altogether enveloped the whole of his head.
XII.—The Deathbed of Athos—"Here I am!"
VICOMTE DE BRAGELONNE.
SHOWING WHAT NEITHER THE NAIAD NOR DRYAD HAD ANTICIPATED.
Saint-Aignan stopped at the foot of the staircase which led to the entresol, where the maids of honor were lodged, and to the first floor, where Madame's apartments were situated. Then, by means of one of the servants who was passing, he sent to apprise Malicorne, who was still with Monsieur. After having waited ten minutes, Malicorne arrived, looking full of suspicion and importance. The king drew back toward the darkest part of the vestibule. Saint-Aignan, on the contrary, advanced to meet him, but at the first words, indicating his wish, Malicorne drew back abruptly.
"Oh! oh!" he said, "you want me to introduce you into the rooms of the maids of honor?"
"You know very well that I cannot do anything of the kind, without being made acquainted with your object."
"Unfortunately, my dear Monsieur Malicorne, it is quite impossible for me to give you any explanation: you must therefore confide in me as in a friend who got you out of a great difficulty yesterday, and who now begs you to draw him out of one to-day."
"Yet, I told you, monsieur, what my object was; that my object was not to sleep out in the open air, and any man might express the same wish, while you, however, admit nothing."
"Believe me, my dear Monsieur Malicorne," Saint-Aignan persisted, "that if I were permitted to explain myself, I would do so."
"In that case, my dear monsieur, it is impossible for me to allow you to enter Mademoiselle de Montalais's apartment."
"You know why better than any one else, since you caught me on the wall paying my addresses to Mademoiselle de Montalais; it would, therefore, be an excess of kindness, on my part, you will admit, since I am paying my attentions to her, to open the door of her room to you."
"But who told you it was on her account I asked you for the key?"
"For whom, then?"
"She does not lodge there alone, I suppose?"
"No, certainly; for Mademoiselle de la Valliere shares her rooms with her; but, really, you have nothing more to do with Mademoiselle de la Valliere than with Mademoiselle de Montalais, and there are only two men to whom I would give this key; to M. de Bragelonne, if he begged me to give it him, and to the king if he ordered me to do so."
"In that case, give me the key, monsieur, I order you to do so," said the king, advancing from the obscurity, and partially opening his cloak. "Mademoiselle de Montalais will step down to talk with you, while we go upstairs to Mademoiselle de la Valliere, for, in fact, it is she only whom we require."
"The king," exclaimed Malicorne, bowing down to the very ground.
"Yes, the king," said Louis, smiling, "the king, who is as pleased with your resistance as with your capitulation. Rise, monsieur, and render us the service we request of you."
"I obey your majesty," said Malicorne, leading the way up the staircase.
"Get Mademoiselle de Montalais to come down," said the king, "and do not breathe a word to her of my visit."
Malicorne bowed in sign of obedience, and proceeded up the staircase. But the king, after a hasty reflection, followed him, and that, too, with such rapidity, that although Malicorne was already more than half-way up the staircase, the king reached the room at the same moment he did. He then observed by the door which remained half-opened behind Malicorne, La Valliere, sitting in an armchair with her head thrown back, and in the opposite corner Montalais, who, in her dressing-gown, was standing before a looking-glass, engaged in arranging her hair, and parleying all the while with Malicorne. The king hurriedly opened the door, and entered the room. Montalais called out at the noise made by the opening of the door, and, recognizing the king, made her escape. La Valliere rose from her seat, like a dead person who had been galvanized, and then fell back again in her armchair. The king advanced slowly toward her.
"You wished for an audience, I believe," he said, coldly; "I am ready to hear you. Speak."
Saint-Aignan, faithful to his character of being deaf, blind, and dumb, had stationed himself in a corner of the door, upon a stool which he fortuitously found there. Concealed by the tapestry which covered the doorway, and leaning his back against the wall, he could in this way listen without been seen; resigning himself to the post of a good watch-dog, who patiently waits and watches without ever getting in his master's way.
La Valliere, terror-stricken at the king's irritated aspect, again rose a second time, and assuming a posture of humility and entreaty, murmured, "Forgive me, sire."
"What need is there for my forgiveness?" asked Louis.
"Sire, I have been guilty of a great fault; nay, more than a great fault, a great crime."
"Sire, I have offended your majesty."
"Not the slightest degree in the world," replied Louis XIV.
"I implore you, sire, not to maintain toward me that terrible seriousness of manner which reveals your majesty's just anger. I feel I have offended you, sire; but I wish to explain to you how it was that I have not offended you of my own accord."
"In the first place," said the king, "in what way can you possibly have offended me? I cannot perceive how. Surely not on account of a young girl's harmless and very innocent jest? You turned the credulity of a young man into ridicule—it was very natural to do so; any other woman in your place would have done the same."
"Oh! your majesty overwhelms me by your remark."
"Because if I had been the author of the jest, it would not have been innocent."
"Well! is that all you had to say to me in soliciting an audience?" said the king, as though about to turn away.
Thereupon, La Valliere, in an abrupt and broken voice, her eyes dried up by the fire of her tears, made a step toward the king, and said, "Did your majesty hear everything?"
"Everything I said beneath the royal oak."
"I did not lose a syllable."
"And when your majesty heard me, you were able to think I had abused your credulity."
"Credulity; yes, indeed you have selected the very word."
"And your majesty did not suppose that a poor girl like myself might possibly be compelled to submit to the will of others."
"Forgive me," returned the king; "but I shall never be able to understand that she, who of her own free will could express herself so unreservedly beneath the royal oak, would allow herself to be influenced to such an extent by the direction of others."
"But the threat held out against me, sire."
"Threat! who threatened you—who dared to threaten you?"
"They who have the right to do so, sire."
"I do not recognize any one as possessing the right to threaten in my kingdom."
"Forgive me, sire, but near your majesty, even, there are persons sufficiently high in position to have, or to believe that they possess, the right of injuring a young girl, without fortune, and possessing only her reputation."
"In what way injure her?"
"In depriving her of her reputation, by disgracefully expelling her from the court."
"Oh! Mademoiselle de la Valliere," said the king, bitterly, "I prefer those persons who exculpate themselves without incriminating others."
"Yes; and I confess that I greatly regret to perceive that an easy justification, as your own might be, should have been complicated in my presence by a tissue of reproaches and imputations against others."
"And which you do not believe?" exclaimed La Valliere. The king remained silent.
"Nay, but tell me!" repeated La Valliere, vehemently.
"I regret to confess it," replied the king, bowing coldly.
The young girl uttered a deep groan, striking her hands together in despair. "You do not believe me, then," she said to the king, who still remained silent, while poor La Valliere's features became visibly changed at his continued silence. "Therefore, you believe," she said, "that I settled this ridiculous, this infamous plot, of trifling, in so shameless a manner, with your majesty."
"Nay," said the king, "it is neither ridiculous nor infamous, it is not even a plot; it is merely a jest, more or less amusing, and nothing more."
"Oh!" murmured the young girl, "the king does not, and will not, believe me, then?"
"No, indeed, I will not believe you," said the king. "Besides, in point of fact, what can be more natural? The king, you argue, follows me, listens to me, watches me; the king wishes perhaps to amuse himself at my expense, I will amuse myself at his, and as the king is very tender-hearted, I will take his heart by storm."
La Valliere hid her face in her hands, as she stifled her sobs. The king continued most pitilessly, he revenged himself upon the poor victim before him for all that he had himself suffered.
"Let us invent, then, this story of my loving him and preferring him to others. The king is so simple and so conceited that he will believe me; and then we can go and tell others how credulous the king is, and can enjoy a laugh at his expense."
"Oh!" exclaimed La Valliere, "to think that, to believe that! it is frightful."
"And," pursued the king, "that is not all; if this self-conceited prince should take our jest seriously, if he should be imprudent enough to exhibit before others anything like delight at it, well, in that case, the king will be humiliated before the whole court; and what a delightful story it will be, too, for him to whom I am really attached, a part of my dowry for my husband, to have the adventure to relate of the king who was so amusingly deceived by a young girl."
"Sire!" exclaimed La Valliere, her mind bewildered, almost wandering, indeed, "not another word, I implore you; do you not see that you are killing me?"
"A jest, nothing but a jest," murmured the king, who, however, began to be somewhat affected.
La Valliere fell upon her knees, and that so violently, that their sound could be heard upon the hard floor. "Sire," she said, "I prefer shame to disloyalty."
"What do you mean?" inquired the king, without moving a step to raise the young girl from her knees.
"Sire, when I shall have sacrificed my honor and my reason both to you, you will perhaps believe in my loyalty. The tale which was related to you in Madame's apartments, and by Madame herself, is utterly false; and that which I said beneath the great oak—"
"That only is the truth."
"What!" exclaimed the king.
"Sire," exclaimed La Valliere, hurried away by the violence of her emotions, "were I to die of shame on the very spot where my knees are fixed, I would repeat it until my latest breath; I said that I loved you, and it is true; I do love you."
"I have loved you, sire, from the very day first I saw you; from the moment when at Blois, where I was pining away my existence, your royal looks, full of light and life, were first bent upon me. I love you still, sire; it is a crime of high treason, I know, that a poor girl like myself should love her sovereign and should presume to tell him so. Punish me for my audacity, despise me for my shameless immodesty; but do not ever say, do not ever think, that I have jested with or deceived you. I belong to a family whose loyalty has been proved, sire; and I, too, love my king."
Suddenly her strength, voice, and respiration ceased, and she fell forward, like the flower Virgil alludes to, which the scythe of the reaper touched as it passed over. The king, at these words, at this vehement entreaty, no longer retained either ill-will or doubt in his mind; his whole heart seemed to expand at the glowing breath of an affection which proclaimed itself in such a noble and courageous language. When, therefore, he heard the passionate confession of that young girl's affection, his strength seemed to fail him, and he hid his face in his hands. But when he felt La Valliere's hands clinging to his own, when their warm pressure fired his blood, he bent forward, and passing his arm round La Valliere's waist, he raised her from the ground and pressed her against his heart. But she, her drooping head fallen forward on her bosom, seemed to have ceased to live. The king, terrified, called out for Saint-Aignan. Saint-Aignan, who had carried his discretion so far as to remain without stirring in his corner, pretending to wipe away a tear, ran forward at the king's summons. He then assisted Louis to seat the young girl upon a couch, slapped her hands, sprinkled some Hungary water over her face, calling out all the while, "Come, come, it is all over; the king believes you, and forgives you. There, there now! take care, or you will agitate his majesty too much; his majesty is so sensitive, so tender-hearted. Now, really, Mademoiselle de la Valliere, you must pay attention, for the king is very pale."
The fact was, the king was visibly losing color. But La Valliere did not move.
"Do pray recover," continued Saint-Aignan, "I beg, I implore you; it is really time you should; think only of one thing, that if the king should become unwell, I should be obliged to summon his physician. What a state of things that would be! So do pray rouse yourself; make an effort, pray do, and do it at once, too."
It was difficult to display more persuasive eloquence than Saint-Aignan did, but something still more powerful and of a more energetic nature than this eloquence aroused La Valliere. The king, who was kneeling before her, covered the palms of her hands with those burning kisses which are to the hands what a kiss upon the lips is to the face. La Valliere's senses returned to her; she languidly opened her eyes, and, with a dying look, murmured, "Oh! sire, has your majesty pardoned me, then?"
The king did not reply, for he was still too much overcome. Saint-Aignan thought it his duty again to retire, for he observed the passionate devotion which was displayed in the king's gaze. La Valliere arose.
"And now, sire, that I have justified myself, at least I trust so in your majesty's eyes, grant me leave to retire into a convent. I shall bless your majesty all my life, and I shall die there thanking and loving Heaven for having granted me one day of perfect happiness."
"No, no," replied the king, "you will live here blessing Heaven, on the contrary, but loving Louis, who will make your existence one of perfect felicity—Louis who loves you—Louis who swears it."
"Oh! sire, sire!"
And upon this doubt of La Valliere, the king's kisses became so warm that Saint-Aignan thought it his duty to retire behind the tapestry. These kisses however, which she had not had the strength at first to resist, began to intimidate the young girl.
"Oh! sire," she exclaimed, "do not make me repent my loyalty, for it would show me that your majesty despises me still."
"Mademoiselle de la Valliere," said the king, suddenly, drawing back with an air full of respect, "there is nothing in the world that I love and honor more than yourself, and nothing in my court, I call Heaven to witness, shall be so highly regarded as you shall be henceforward. I entreat your forgiveness for my transport; it arose from an excess of affection, but I can prove to you that I shall love still more than ever by respecting you as much as you can possibly desire." Then bending before her, and taking her by the hand, he said to her, "Will you honor me by accepting the kiss I press upon your hand?" And the king's lips were pressed respectfully and lightly upon the young girl's trembling hand. "Henceforth," added Louis, rising and bending his glance upon La Valliere, "henceforth you are under my safeguard. Do not speak to any one of the injury I have done you, forgive others that which they may have been able to do you. For the future you shall be so far above all those, that, far from inspiring you with fear, they shall be even beneath your pity." And he bowed as reverently as though he were leaving a place of worship. Then calling to Saint-Aignan, who approached with great humility, he said, "I hope, comte, that Mademoiselle de la Valliere will kindly confer a little of her friendship upon you, in return for that which I have vowed to her eternally."
Saint-Aignan bent his knee before La Valliere, saying, "How happy, indeed, would such an honor make me!"
"I shall send your companion back to you," said the king. "Farewell! or, rather, adieu till we meet again; do not forget me in your prayers, I entreat."
"Oh! no," said La Valliere, "be assured that you and heaven are in my heart together."
These words of Louise elated the king, who, full of happiness, hurried Saint-Aignan down the stairs. Madame had not anticipated this termination, and neither the Naiad nor the Dryad had said a word about it.
THE NEW GENERAL OF THE JESUITS.
While La Valliere and the king were mingling together, in their first confession of love, all the bitterness of the past, all the happiness of the present, and all the hopes of the future, Fouquet had retired to the apartments which had been assigned to him in the chateau, and was conversing with Aramis precisely upon the very subjects which the king at that moment was forgetting.
"Now tell me," began Fouquet, after having installed his guest in an armchair, and seated himself by his side, "tell me, Monsieur d'Herblay, what is our position with regard to the Belle-Isle affair, and whether you have received any news about it."
"Everything is going on in that direction as we wish," replied Aramis; "the expenses have been paid, and nothing has transpired of our designs."
"But what about the soldiers whom the king wished to send there?"
"I have received news this morning that they had arrived there fifteen days ago."
"And how have they been treated?"
"In the best manner possible."
"What has become of the former garrison?"
"The soldiers were landed at Sarzeau, and were sent off at once toward Quimper."
"And the new garrison?"
"Belongs to us from this very moment."
"Are you sure of what you say, my dear Monsieur de Vannes?"
"Quite sure, and, moreover, you will see by-and-by how matters have turned out."
"Still you are very well aware that, of all the garrison towns, Belle-Isle is precisely the very worst."
"I know it, and have acted accordingly; no space to move about, no communications, no cheerful society, no gambling permitted; well, it is a great pity," added Aramis, with one of those smiles so peculiar to him, "to see how much young people at the present day seek amusement, and how much, consequently, they incline toward the man who procures and pays for such amusements for them."
"But if they amuse themselves at Belle-Isle?"
"If they amuse themselves through the king's means, they will attach themselves to the king; but if they get bored to death through the king's means, and amuse themselves through M. Fouquet, they will attach themselves to M. Fouquet."
"And you informed my intendant, of course, so that immediately on their arrival—"
"By no means; they were left alone a whole week, to weary themselves at their ease; but, at the end of the week, they cried out, saying that the last officers amused themselves more than they did. Whereupon they were told that the old officers had been able to make a friend of M. Fouquet, and that M. Fouquet, knowing them to be friends of his, had from that moment done all he possibly could to prevent their getting wearied or bored upon his estates. Upon this they began to reflect. Immediately afterward, however, the intendant added, that without anticipating M. Fouquet's orders, he knew his master sufficiently well to be aware that he took an interest in every gentleman in the king's service, and that, although he did not know the new comers, he would do as much for them as he had done for the others."
"Excellent! and I trust that the promises were followed up; I desire, as you know, that no promise should ever be made in my name without being kept."
"Without a moment's loss of time, our two privateers, and your own horses, were placed at the disposal of the officers; the keys of the principal mansion were handed over to them, so that they made up hunting-parties, and walking-excursions with such ladies as are to be found in Belle-Isle; and such others as they are enabled to enlist from the neighborhood, who have no fear of sea-sickness."
"And there is a fair sprinkling to be met with at Sarzeau and Vannes, I believe, your eminence?"
"Yes; all along the coast," said Aramis, quietly.
"And now, for the soldiers?"
"Everything is precisely the same, in a relative degree, you understand; the soldiers have plenty of wine, excellent provisions, and good pay."
"Very good; so that?—"
"So that this garrison can be depended upon, and it is a better one than the last."
"The result is, if Fortune favors us, so that the garrisons are changed in this manner, only every two months, that at the end of every three years, the whole army will, in its turn, have been there; and, therefore, instead of having one regiment in our favor, we shall have fifty thousand men."
"Yes, yes; I knew perfectly well," said Fouquet, "that no friend could be more incomparable and invaluable than yourself, my dear Monsieur d'Herblay; but," he added, laughing, "all this time we are forgetting our friend De Vallon; what has become of him? During the three days I have spent at Saint-Mande, I confess I have forgotten him completely."
"I do not forget him, however," returned Aramis. "Porthos is at Saint-Mande; all his joints are kept well greased, the greatest care is being taken of him with regard to the food he eats, and to the wines he drinks; I advise him to take daily airings in the small park, which you have kept for your own use, and he makes use of it accordingly. He begins to walk again, he exercises his muscular powers by bending down young elm trees, or making the old oaks fly into splinters, as Milo of Crotona used to do; and, as there are no lions in the park, it is not unlikely we shall find him alive. Porthos is a brave fellow."
"Yes, but in the meantime he will get wearied to death."
"He never does that."
"He will be asking questions?"
"He sees no one."
"At all events, he is looking or hoping for something or another?"
"I have inspired in him a hope which we will realize some fine morning, and he subsists on that."
"What is it?"
"That of being presented to the king."
"Oh! oh! in what character?"
"As the engineer of Belle-Isle, of course."
"Is it possible?"
"Shall we not be obliged, then, to send him back to Belle-Isle?"
"Most certainly; I am even thinking of sending him back as soon as possible. Porthos is very fond of display; he is a man whose weaknesses D'Artagnan, Athos and myself are alone acquainted with; he never commits himself in any way; he is dignity itself; to the officers there, he would seem like a Paladin of the time of the Crusades. He would make the whole staff drunk, without getting so himself, and every one will regard him as an object of admiration and sympathy; if, therefore, it should happen that we should have any orders requiring to be carried out, Porthos is an incarnation of the order itself, and whatever he chose to do, others would find themselves obliged to submit to."
"Send him back then."
"That is what I intend to do; but in a few days only, for I must not omit to tell you one thing."
"What is it?"
"I begin to suspect D'Artagnan. He is not at Fontainebleau, as you may have noticed, and D'Artagnan is never absent, or apparently idle, without some object in view. And now that my own affairs are settled, I am going to try and ascertain what the affairs are in which D'Artagnan is engaged."
"Your own affairs are settled, you say?"
"You are very fortunate, in that case, then, and I should like to be able to say the same."
"I hope you do not make yourself uneasy."
"Nothing could be better than the king's reception of you."
"And Colbert lets you be quiet."
"In that case," said Aramis, with that connection of ideas which marked him, "in that, case, then, we can bestow a thought upon the young girl I was speaking to you about yesterday."
"Whom do you mean?"
"What, have you forgotten already? I mean La Valliere."
"Ah! of course, of course."
"Do you object, then, to try and make a conquest of her?"
"In one respect only, my heart is engaged in another direction; and I positively do not care about the girl in the least."
"Oh! oh!" said Aramis, "your heart is engaged, you say. The deuce! we must take care of that!"
"Because it is terrible to have the heart occupied, when others, beside yourself, have so much need of the head."
"You are right. So, you see, at your first summons, I left everything. But to return to this girl. What good do you see in my troubling myself about her?"
"This.—The king, it is said, has taken a fancy to her; at least, so it is supposed."
"But you, who know everything, know very differently."
"I know that the king has changed with great rapidity; that the day before yesterday, he was mad about Madame; that a few days ago, Monsieur complained of it, even to the queen-mother; and that some conjugal misunderstandings and maternal scoldings were the consequence."
"How do you know all that?"
"I do know it; at all events, since these misunderstandings and scoldings the king has not addressed a word, has not paid the slightest attention, to her royal highness."
"Well, what next?"
"Since then, he has been taken up with Mademoiselle de la Valliere. Now, Mademoiselle de la Valliere is one of Madame's maids of honor. You happen to know, I suppose, what is called a chaperon in matters of love. Well, then, Mademoiselle de la Valliere is Madame's chaperon. It is for you, therefore, to take advantage of this state of things. You have no occasion for me to tell you that. But, at all events, wounded vanity will render the conquest an easier one; the girl will get hold of the king, and Madame's secret, and you can hardly tell what a man of intelligence can do with a secret."
"But how to get at her?"
"Nay, you, of all men, to ask me such a question?" said Aramis.
"Very true. I shall not have any time to take any notice of her."
"She is poor and unassuming, you will create a position for her, and, whether she becomes the king's master, or his mistress, or whether she only becomes his confidant, you will only have made a new proficient."
"Very good," said Fouquet. "What is to be done, then, with regard to this girl?"
"Whenever you have taken a fancy to any lady, Monsieur Fouquet, what steps have you taken?"
"I have written to her, protesting my devotion to her. I have added, how happy I should be to render her any service in my power, and have signed 'Fouquet' at the end of the letter."
"And has any one offered any resistance?"
"One person only," replied Fouquet. "But, four days ago, she yielded, as the others had done."
"Will you take the trouble to write?" said Aramis, holding a pen toward him, which Fouquet took, saying:
"I will write at your dictation. My head is so taken up in another direction that I should not be able to write a couple of lines."
"Very well," said Aramis, "write."
And he dictated as follows: "I have seen, and you will not be surprised to learn, how beautiful I have found you. But, for want of the position you merit at the court, your presence there is a waste of time. The devotion of a man of honor, should ambition of any kind inspire you, might possibly serve as a means of display for your talents and beauty. I place my devotion at your feet; but, as an affection, however reserved and unpresuming it may be, might possibly compromise the object of its worship, it would ill-become a person of your merit running the risk of being compromised, without her future being insured. If you would deign to accept and reply to my affection, my affection shall prove its gratitude to you in making you free and independent forever." Having finished writing, Fouquet looked at Aramis.
"Sign it," said the latter.
"Is it absolutely necessary?"
"Your signature at the foot of that letter is worth a million; you forget that." Fouquet signed.
"Now, by whom do you intend to send the letter?" asked Aramis.
"By an excellent servant of mine."
"Can you rely on him?"
"He is a man who has been with me all my life."
"Very well. Besides, in this case, we are not playing for very heavy stakes."
"How so? For if what you say be true of the accommodating disposition of this girl for the king and Madame, the king will give her all the money she can ask for."
"The king has money, then?" asked Aramis.
"I suppose so, for he has not asked me for any more."
"Be easy; he will ask for some soon."
"Nay, more than that, I had thought he would have spoken to me about the fete at Vaux, but he never said a word about it."
"He will be sure to do so, though."
"You must think the king's disposition a very cruel one, Monsieur d'Herblay."
"It is not he who is so."
"He is young, and therefore his disposition is a kind one."
"He is young, and either he is weak, or his passions are strong; and Monsieur Colbert holds his weaknesses and his passions in his villainous grasp."
"You admit that you fear him?—"
"I do not deny it."
"In that case I am lost."
"My only influence with the king has been through the money I commanded, and now I am a ruined man."
"What do you mean by 'not so?' Do you know my affairs better than myself?"
"That is not unlikely."
"If he were to request this fete to be given?"
"You will give it, of course."
"But where is the money to come from?"
"Have you ever been in want of any?"
"Oh, if you only knew at what a cost I procured the last supply!"
"The next shall cost you nothing."
"But who will give it me?"
"What! give me six millions?"
"Ten, if necessary."
"Upon my word, D'Herblay," said Fouquet, "your confidence alarms me more than the king's displeasure. Who can you possibly be, after all?"
"You know me well enough, I should think."
"Of course; but what is it you are aiming at?"
"I wish to see upon the throne of France a king devoted to Monsieur Fouquet, and I wish Monsieur Fouquet to be devoted to me."
"Oh!" exclaimed Fouquet, pressing his hand, "as for belonging to you. I am yours entirely: but believe me, my dear D'Herblay, you are deceiving yourself."
"In what respect?"
"The king will never become devoted to me."
"I do not remember to have said that the king would be devoted to you."
"Why, on the contrary, you have this moment said so."
"I did not say the king: I said a king."
"Is it not all the same?"
"No, on the contrary, it is quite different."
"I do not understand you."
"You will do so shortly then. Suppose, for instance, the king in question were to be a very different person to Louis XIV."
"Yes, who is indebted for everything to you."
"His very throne even."
"You are mad, D'Herblay! There is no man living besides Louis XIV. who can sit on the throne of France. I see none, not one."
"Unless it be Monsieur," said Fouquet, looking at Aramis uneasily, "yet Monsieur—"
"It is not Monsieur."
"But how can it be that a prince not of the royal line, that a prince without any right—"
"My king, or rather your king, will be everything that is necessary, be assured of that."
"Be careful, Monsieur d'Herblay; you make my blood run cold, and my head swim."
Aramis smiled. "There is but little occasion for that," he replied.
"Again, I repeat, you terrify me!" said Fouquet.
"You laugh," said Fouquet.
"The day will come when you will laugh too; only at the present moment I must laugh alone."
"But explain yourself."
"When the proper day shall have arrived, I will explain all. Fear nothing; have faith in me, and doubt nothing."
"The fact is, I cannot but doubt, because I do not see clearly, or at all even."
"That is because of your blindness: but a day will come when you will be enlightened."
"Oh," said Fouquet, "how willingly would I believe!"
"You without belief! You who, through my means, have ten times crossed the abyss yawning at your feet, and in which, had you been alone, you would have been irretrievably swallowed up! You without belief! you who, from procureur-general, attained the rank of intendant, from the rank of intendant that of first minister of the crown, and who, from the rank of first minister, will pass to that of mayor of the palace! But no," he said, with the same unaltered smile, "no, no, you cannot see, and consequently cannot believe that." And Aramis rose to withdraw.
"One word more," said Fouquet. "You have never yet spoken to me in this manner, you have never yet shown yourself so confident—I should rather say so daring."
"Because it is necessary, in order to speak confidently, to have the lips unfettered."
"And that is now your case?"
"Since a very short time, then?"
"Since yesterday only."
"Oh, Monsieur d'Herblay, take care; your confidence is becoming audacity."
"One can well be audacious when one is powerful."
"And you are powerful?"
"I have already offered you ten millions: I offer them again to you."
Fouquet rose, much agitated and disturbed.
"Come," he said, "come; you spoke of overthrowing kings and replacing them by others. If, indeed, I am not really out of my senses, is or is not that what you said just now?"
"You are by no means out of your senses, for it is perfectly true I did say all that just now."
"And why did you say so?"
"Because it is easy to speak in this manner of thrones being cast down, and kings being raised up, when one is, one's self, far above all king's and thrones, of this world at least."
"Your power is infinite, then?" cried Fouquet.
"I have told you so already, and I repeat it," replied Aramis, with glistening eyes and trembling lips.
Fouquet threw himself back in his chair and buried his face in his hands. Aramis looked at him for a moment, as the angel of human destinies might have looked upon a simple mortal being.
"Adieu," he said to him, "sleep undisturbed, and send your letter to La Valliere. To-morrow we shall see each other again."
"Yes, to-morrow," said Fouquet, shaking his hand like a man returning to his senses. "But where shall we see each other?"
"At the king's promenade, if you like."
"Agreed." And they separated.
The dawn of the following day was dark and gloomy, and as every one knew that the promenade was set down in the royal programme, every one's gaze, as his eyes were opened, was directed toward the sky. Just above the tops of the trees a thick, suffocating vapor seemed to remain suspended, with hardly sufficient power to rise thirty feet above the ground under the influence of the sun's rays, which could barely be seen through the veil of a heavy and thick mist. No dew had fallen in the morning; the turf was dried up for want of moisture, the flowers were withered. The birds sung less inspiritingly than usual amid the boughs, which remained as motionless as death. The strange confused and animated murmurs, which seemed born of, and to exist by the sun, that respiration of nature which is unceasingly heard amid all other sounds, could not be heard now, and never had the silence been so profound. The king had noticed the cheerless aspect of the heavens as he approached the window immediately after rising. But as all the necessary directions had been given respecting the promenade, and every preparation had been made accordingly, and as, which was far more imperious than everything else, Louis relied upon this promenade to satisfy the cravings of his imagination, and we will even already say, the clamorous desires of his heart—the king unhesitatingly decided that the appearance of the heavens had nothing whatever to do with the matter; that the promenade was arranged, and that, whatever the state of the weather might be, the promenade should take place. Besides there are certain terrestrial sovereigns who seem to have accorded them privileged existences, and there are certain times when it might almost be supposed that the expressed wish of an earthly monarch has its influence over the Divine will. It was Virgil who observed of Augustus: Nocte placet tota redeunt spectacula mane. Louis attended mass as usual, but it was evident that his attention was somewhat distracted from the presence of the Creator by the remembrance of the creature. His mind was occupied during the service in reckoning more than once the number of minutes, then of seconds, which separated him from the blissful moment when the promenade would begin, that is to say, the moment when Madame would set out with her maids of honor.
Besides, as a matter of course, everybody at the chateau was ignorant of the interview which had taken place between La Valliere and the king. Montalais, perhaps, with her usual chattering propensity, might have been disposed to talk about it; but Montalais on this occasion was held in check by Malicorne, who had placed upon her lips the padlock of mutual interest. As for Louis XIV., his happiness was so extreme that he had forgiven Madame, or nearly so, her little piece of ill-nature of the previous evening. In fact, he had occasion to congratulate himself about it rather than to complain of it. Had it not been for her ill-natured action, he would not have received the letter from La Valliere; had it not been for the letter, he would have had no interview; and had it not been for the interview he would have remained undecided. His heart was filled with too much happiness for any ill-feeling to remain in it, at that moment at least. Instead, therefore, of knitting his brows into a frown when he perceived his sister-in-law, Louis resolved to receive her in a more friendly and gracious manner than usual. But on one condition only, that she would be ready to set out early. Such was the nature of Louis's thoughts during mass, and which made him, during the ceremony, forget matters, which, in his character of Most Christian King and of the oldest son of the Church, ought to have occupied his attention. He returned to the chateau, and as the promenade was fixed for mid-day only, and it was at present just ten o'clock, he set to work most desperately with Colbert and Lyonne. But even while he worked, Louis went from the table to the window, inasmuch as the window looked out upon Madame's pavilion; he could see M. Fouquet in the courtyard, to whom the courtiers, since the favor shown toward him on the previous evening, paid greater attention than ever. The king, instinctively, on noticing Fouquet, turned toward Colbert, who was smiling, and seemed full of benevolence and delight, a state of feeling which had arisen from the very moment one of his secretaries had entered and handed him a pocket-book, which he had put unopened into his pocket. But, as there was always something sinister at the bottom of any delight expressed by Colbert, Louis preferred of the smiles of the two men that of Fouquet. He beckoned to the surintendant to come up, and then, turning toward Lyonne and Colbert, he said: "Finish this matter, place it on my desk, and I will read it at my leisure." And he left the room. At the sign the king had made to him, Fouquet had hastened up the staircase, while Aramis, who was with the surintendant, quietly retired among the group of courtiers, and disappeared without having been even observed by the king. The king and Fouquet met at the top of the staircase.
"Sire," said Fouquet, remarking the gracious manner in which Louis was about to receive him, "your majesty has overwhelmed me with kindness during the last few days. It is not a youthful monarch, but a being of a higher order, who reigns over France—one whom pleasure, happiness, and love acknowledge as their master." The king colored. The compliment, although flattering, was not the less somewhat direct. Louis conducted Fouquet to a small room which separated his study from his sleeping apartment.
"Do you know why I summoned you?" said the king, as he seated himself upon the edge of the window, so as not to lose anything that might be passing in the gardens which fronted the opposite entrance to Madame's pavilion.
"No, sire," replied Fouquet; "but I am sure for something agreeable, if I am to judge from your majesty's gracious smile."
"You are mistaken, then."
"For I summoned you, on the contrary, to pick a quarrel with you."
"With me, sire?"
"Yes, and that a serious one."
"Your majesty alarms me; and yet I wait most confident in your justice and goodness."
"Do you know I am told, Monsieur Fouquet, that you are preparing a grand fete at Vaux."
Fouquet smiled, as a sick man would do at the first shiver of a fever which has left him but returns again.
"And that you have not invited me!" continued the king.
"Sire," replied Fouquet, "I have not even thought of the fete you speak of, and it was only yesterday evening that one of my friends" (Fouquet laid a stress upon the word) "was kind enough to make me think of it."
"Yet I saw you yesterday evening, Monsieur Fouquet, and you said nothing to me about it."
"How dared I hope that your majesty would so greatly descend from your own exalted station as to honor my dwelling with your royal presence?"
"Excuse me, Monsieur Fouquet, you did not speak to me about your fete."
"I did not allude to the fete to your majesty, I repeat, in the first place, because nothing had been decided with regard to it, and, secondly, because I feared a refusal."
"And something made you fear a refusal, Monsieur Fouquet? You see I am determined to push you hard."
"The profound wish I had that your majesty should accept my invitation—"
"Well, Monsieur Fouquet, nothing is easier, I perceive, than our coming to an understanding. Your wish is to invite me to your fete—my own is to be present at it; invite me, and I will go."
"Is it possible that your majesty will deign to accept?" murmured the surintendant.
"Why, really, monsieur," said the king, laughing, "I think I do more than accept—I think I invite myself."
"Your majesty overwhelms me with honor and delight!" exclaimed Fouquet; "but I shall be obliged to repeat what M. de Vieuville said to your ancestor Henry the Fourth, 'Domine non sum dignus.'"
"To which I reply, Monsieur Fouquet, that if you give a fete, I will go whether I am invited or not."
"I thank your majesty deeply," said Fouquet, as he raised his head beneath this favor, which he was convinced would be his ruin.
"But how could your majesty have been informed of it?"
"By public rumor, Monsieur Fouquet, which says such wonderful things of yourself and of the marvels of your house. Would you become proud, Monsieur Fouquet, if the king were to be jealous of you?"
"I should be the happiest man in the world, sire, since the very day on which your majesty were to be jealous of Vaux, I should possess something worthy of being offered to you."
"Very well, Monsieur Fouquet, prepare your fete, and open the doors of your house as wide as possible."
"It is for your majesty to fix the day."
"This day month, then."
"Has your majesty any further commands?"
"Nothing, Monsieur Fouquet, except from the present moment until then to have you near me as much as possible."
"I have the honor to form one of your majesty's party for the promenade."
"Very good. I am now going out indeed, for there are the ladies, I see, who are going to start."
With this remark, the king, with all the eagerness, not only of a young man, but of a young man in love, withdrew from the window, in order to take his gloves and cane, which his valet held ready for him. The neighing of the horses and the rumbling of the wheels on the gravel of the courtyard could be distinctly heard. The king descended the stairs, and at the moment he made his appearance upon the flight of steps every one stopped. The king walked straight up to the young queen. The queen-mother, who was still suffering more than ever from the illness with which she was afflicted, did not wish to go out. Maria Theresa accompanied Madame in her carriage, and asked the king in what direction he wished the promenade to take place. The king, who had just seen La Valliere, still pale from the events of the previous evening, get into a carriage with three of her companions, told the queen that he had no preference, and wherever she would wish to go, there would he be with her. The queen then desired that the out-riders should proceed in the direction of Apremont. The out-riders set off, accordingly, before the others. The king rode on horseback, and for a few minutes accompanied the carriage of the queen and Madame, with his hand resting upon the door. The weather had cleared up a little, but a kind of veil of dust, like a thick gauze, was still spread over the surface of the heavens, and the sun made every glittering atom of dust glisten again within the circuit of its rays. The heat was stifling; but as the king did not seem to pay any attention to the appearance of the heavens, no one made himself uneasy about it, and the promenade, in obedience to the orders which had been given by the queen, took its course in the direction of Apremont. The courtiers who followed were merry and full of spirits; it was evident that every one tried to forget, and to make others forget, the bitter discussions of the previous evening. Madame, particularly, was delightful; in fact, seeing the king at the door of her carriage, as she did not suppose he would be there for the queen's sake, she hoped that her prince had returned to her. Hardly, however, had they proceeded a quarter of a mile on the road, when the king, with a gracious smile, saluted them and drew up his horse, leaving the queen's carriage to pass on, then that of the principal ladies of honor, and then all the others in succession, who, seeing the king stop, wished in their turn to stop too; but the king made a sign to them to continue their progress. When La Valliere's carriage passed, the king approached it, saluted the ladies who were inside, and was preparing to accompany the carriage containing the maids of honor, in the same way he had followed that in which Madame was, when suddenly the whole file of carriages stopped. It was probable that Madame, uneasy at the king having left her, had just given directions for the performance of this maneuver, the direction in which the promenade was to take place having been left to her. The king having sent to inquire what her object was in stopping the carriages, was informed in reply that she wished to walk. She very likely hoped that the king, who was following the carriages of the maids of honor on horseback, would not venture to follow the maids of honor themselves on foot. They had arrived in the middle of the forest. The promenade, in fact, was not ill-timed, especially for those who were dreamers or lovers. From the little open space where the halt had taken place, three beautiful long walks, shady and undulating, stretched out before them. These walks were covered with moss, with leaves lying scattered idly about; and each walk had its horizon in the distance, consisting of about a handbreadth of sky, apparent through the interlacing of the branches of the trees. At the end of the walks, evidently in great tribulation and uneasiness, the startled deer were seen hurrying to and fro, first stopping for a moment in the middle of the path, and then raising their heads, they fled with the speed of an arrow, or bounded into the depths of the forest, where they disappeared from view; now and then a rabbit of philosophical mien could be noticed quietly sitting upright, rubbing his muzzle with his fore-paws, and looking about inquiringly, as though wondering whether all these people, who were approaching in his direction, and who had just disturbed him in his meditations and his meal, were not followed by their dogs, or had not their guns under their arms. All alighted from their carriages as soon as they observed that the queen was doing so. Maria Theresa took the arm of one of her ladies of honor, and, with a side-glance toward the king, who did not perceive that he was in the slightest degree the object of the queen's attention, entered the forest by the first path before her. Two of the out-riders preceded her majesty with long poles, which they used for the purpose of putting the branches of the trees aside, or removing the bushes which might impede her progress. As soon as Madame alighted, she found the Comte de Guiche at her side, who bowed and placed himself at her disposal. Monsieur, delighted with his bath of the two previous days, had announced his preference for the river, and, having given De Guiche leave of absence, remained at the chateau with the Chevalier de Lorraine and Manicamp. He was not in the slightest degree jealous. He had been looked for to no purpose among those present; but as Monsieur was a man who thought a great deal of himself, and usually added very little to the general pleasure, his absence had rather been a subject of satisfaction than of regret. Every one had followed the example which the queen and Madame had set, doing just as they pleased, according as chance or fancy influenced them. The king, we have already observed, remained near Valliere, and, throwing himself off his horse at the moment the door of her carriage was opened, he offered her his hand to alight. Montalais and Tonnay-Charente immediately drew back and kept at a distance; the former from calculated, the latter from prudent, motives. There was this difference, however, between the two, that the one had withdrawn from a wish to please the king, the other for a very opposite reason. During the last half hour the weather also had undergone a change; the veil which had been spread over the sky, as if driven by a blast of heated air, had become massed together in the western part of the heavens; and afterward as if driven back by a current of air from the opposite direction, was now advancing slowly and heavily toward them. The approach of the storm could be felt, but as the king did not perceive it, no one thought it was right to do so. The promenade was therefore continued; some of the company, with minds ill at ease on the subject, raised their eyes from time to time toward the sky; others, even more timid still, walked about without wandering too far from the carriages, where they relied upon taking shelter in case the storm burst. The greater number of these, however, observing that the king fearlessly entered the wood with La Valliere, followed his majesty. The king, noticing this, took La Valliere's hand, and led her away by a side-path, where no one this time ventured to follow him.
THE SHOWER OF RAIN.
At this moment, and in the same direction, too, that the king and La Valliere were proceeding, except that they were walking in the wood itself instead of following the path, two men were walking together, utterly indifferent to the appearance of the heavens. Their heads were bent down in the manner of people occupied with matters of great moment. They had not observed either De Guiche or Madame, or the king or La Valliere. Suddenly something passed through the air like a stream of fire, followed by a loud but distant rumbling noise.
"Ah!" said one of them, raising his head, "here is the storm. Let us reach our carriages, my dear D'Herblay."
Aramis looked inquiringly at the heavens. "There is no occasion to hurry yet," he said; and then, resuming the conversation where it had doubtlessly been interrupted, he said, "You were observing that the letter we wrote last evening must by this time have reached its destination?"
"I was saying that she certainly has it."
"Whom did you send it by?"
"By my own servant, as I have already told you."
"Did he bring back an answer?"
"I have not seen him since; the young girl was probably in attendance on Madame, or was in her own room dressing, and he may have had to wait. Our time for leaving arrived, and we set off, of course: I cannot, therefore, know what is going on yonder."
"Did you see the king before leaving?"
"How did he seem?"
"Nothing could be better, or worse; according as he be sincere or hypocritical."
"And the fete?"
"Will take place in a month."
"He invited himself, you say?"
"With a pertinacity in which I detected Colbert's influence. But has not last night removed your illusions?"
"With respect to the assistance you may be able to give me in this circumstance."
"No; I have passed the night writing, and all my orders are given."
"Do not conceal it from yourself, D'Herblay, but the fete will cost some millions."
"I will give six, do you on your side get two or three."
"You are a wonderful man, my dear D'Herblay."
"But," inquired Fouquet, with some remaining uneasiness, "how is it that, while now you are squandering millions in this manner, a few days ago you did not pay the fifty thousand francs to Baisemeaux out of your own pocket?"
"Because a few days ago I was as poor as Job."
"To-day I am wealthier than the king himself."
"Very well," said Fouquet; "I understand men pretty well; I know you are incapable of forfeiting your word; I do not wish to wrest your secret from you, and so let us talk no more about it."
At this moment a dull, heavy rumbling was heard, which suddenly burst forth in a violent clap of thunder.
"Oh, oh!" said Fouquet, "I was quite right in what I said."
"Come," said Aramis, "let us rejoin the carriages."
"We shall not have time," said Fouquet, "for here comes the rain."
In fact, as he spoke, and as if the heavens were opened, a shower of large drops of rain was suddenly heard falling on the trees about them.
"We shall have time," said Aramis, "to reach the carriages before the foliage becomes saturated."
"It will be better," said Fouquet, "to take shelter somewhere—in a grotto, for instance."
"Yes, but where are we to find a grotto?" inquired Aramis.
"I know one," said Fouquet, smiling, "not ten paces from here." Then looking round about him, he added: "Yes, we are quite right."
"You are very fortunate to have so good a memory said Aramis," smiling in his turn; "but are you not afraid that your coachman, finding we do not return, will suppose we have taken another road back, and that he will not follow the carriages belonging to the court?"
"Oh, there is no fear of that," said Fouquet; "whenever I place my coachman and my carriage in any particular spot, nothing but an express order from the king could stir them; and more than that, too, it seems that we are not the only ones who have come so far, for I hear footsteps and the sound of voices."
As he spoke, Fouquet, turning round, opened with his cane a mass of foliage which hid the path from his view. Aramis' glance as well as his own plunged at the same moment through the opening he had made.
"A woman," said Aramis.
"And a man," said Fouquet.
"It is La Valliere and the king," they both exclaimed together.
"Oh, oh!" said Aramis, "is his majesty aware of your cavern as well? I should not be astonished if he were, for he seems to be on very good terms with the nymphs of Fontainebleau."
"It matters little," said Fouquet; "let us get there; if he is not aware of it we shall see what he will do; if he should know it, as it has two entrances, while he enters by one, we can leave by the other."
"Is it far?" asked Aramis, "for the rain is beginning to penetrate."
"We are there now," said Fouquet, as he put aside a few branches, and an excavation of the rock could be observed, which had been entirely concealed by heaths, ivy, and a thick covert of small shrubs.
Fouquet led the way, followed by Aramis; but as the latter entered the grotto, he turned round, saying: "Yes, they are now entering the wood; and, see, they are bending their steps this way."
"Very well; let us make room for them," said Fouquet, smiling and pulling Aramis by his cloak; "but I do not think the king knows of my grotto."
"Yes," said Aramis, "they are looking about them, but it is only for a thicker tree."
Aramis was not mistaken, the king's looks were directed upward, and not around him. He held La Valliere's arm within his own, and held her hand in his. La Valliere's feet began to slip on the damp grass. Louis again looked round him with greater attention than before, and perceiving an enormous oak with wide-spreading branches, he hurriedly drew La Valliere beneath its protecting shelter. The poor girl looked round her on all sides, and seemed half afraid, half desirous, of being followed. The king made her lean her back against the trunk of the tree, whose vast circumference, protected by the thickness of the foliage, was as dry as if at that moment the rain had not been falling in torrents. He himself remained standing before her with his head uncovered. After a few minutes, however, some drops of rain penetrated through the branches of the tree and fell on the king's forehead, who did not pay any attention to it.
"Oh, sire!" murmured La Valliere, pushing the king's hat toward him. But the king simply bowed, and determinedly refused to cover his head.
"Now or never is the time to offer your place," said Fouquet in Aramis' ear.
"Now or never is the time to listen, and not lose a syllable of what they may have to say to each other," replied Aramis in Fouquet's ear.
In fact, they both remained perfectly silent, and the king's voice reached them where they were.
"Believe me," said the king, "I perceive, or rather I can imagine your uneasiness; believe how sincerely I regret to have isolated you from the rest of the company, and to have brought you, also, to a spot where you will be inconvenienced by the rain. You are wet already, and perhaps are cold, too?"
"And yet you tremble?"
"I am afraid, sire, that my absence may be misinterpreted; at a moment, too, when all the others are reunited."
"I would not hesitate to propose returning to the carriages, Mademoiselle de la Valliere, but pray look and listen, and tell me if it be possible to attempt to make the slightest progress at the present?"
In fact the thunder was still rolling, and the rain continued to fall in torrents.
"Besides," continued the king, "no possible interpretation can be made which would be to your discredit. Are you not with the king of France; in other words, with the first gentleman of the kingdom?"
"Certainly, sire," replied La Valliere, "and it is a very distinguished honor for me; it is not, therefore, for myself that I fear the interpretations that may be made."
"For whom, then?"
"For yourself, sire."
"For me?" said the king, smiling; "I do not understand you."
"Has your majesty already forgotten what took place yesterday evening in her highness's apartments?"
"Oh! forget that, I beg, or allow me to remember it for no other purpose than to thank you once more for your letter, and—"
"Sire," interrupted La Valliere, "the rain is falling, and your majesty's head is uncovered."
"I entreat you not to think of anything but yourself."
"Oh! I," said La Valliere, smiling, "I am a country girl, accustomed to roaming through the meadows of the Loire and the gardens of Blois, whatever the weather may be. And, as for my clothes," she added, looking at her simple muslin dress, "your majesty sees they do not run much risk."
"Indeed, I have already noticed, more than once, that you owed nearly everything to yourself and nothing to your toilet. Your freedom from coquetry is one of your greatest charms in my eyes."
"Sire, do not make me out better than I am, and say merely, 'You cannot be a coquette.'"
"Because," said La Valliere, smiling, "I am not rich."
"You admit, then," said the king, quickly, "that you have a love for beautiful things?"
"Sire, I only regard those things as beautiful which are within my reach. Everything which is too highly placed for me—"
"You are indifferent to?"
"Is foreign to me, as being prohibited."
"And I," said the king, "do not find that you are at my court on the footing you should be. The services of your family have not been sufficiently brought under my notice. The advancement of your family has been cruelly neglected by my uncle."
"On the contrary, sire. His royal highness, the Duke of Orleans, had always been exceedingly kind toward M. de Saint-Remy, my father-in-law. The services rendered were humble, and, properly speaking, our services have been adequately recognized. It is not every one who is happy enough to find opportunities of serving his sovereign with distinction. I have no doubt at all, that, if ever opportunities had been met with, my family's actions would; but that happiness has never been ours."
"In that case, Mademoiselle de la Valliere, it belongs to kings to repair the want of opportunity, and most delightedly do I undertake to repair, in your instance, and with the least possible delay, the wrongs of fortune toward you."
"Nay, sire," cried La Valliere, eagerly; "leave things, I beg, as they now are."
"Is it possible! you refuse what I ought, and what I wish to do for you?"
"All I desired has been granted me, when the honor was conferred upon me of forming one of Madame's household."
"But if you refuse for yourself, at least accept for your family."
"Your generous intention, sire, bewilders and makes me apprehensive, for, in doing for my family what your kindness urges you to do, your majesty will raise up enemies for us, and enemies for yourself too. Leave me in my mediocrity, sire; of all the feelings and sentiments I experience, leave me to enjoy that pleasing delicacy of disinterestedness."
"The sentiments you express," said the king, "are indeed admirable."
"Quite true," murmured Aramis in Fouquet's ear, "and he cannot be accustomed to them."
"But," replied Fouquet, "suppose she were to make a similar reply to my letter."
"True!" said Aramis, "let us not anticipate, but wait the conclusion."
"And then, dear Monsieur d'Herblay," added the surintendant, hardly able to appreciate the sentiments which La Valliere had just expressed, "it is very often a sound calculation to seem disinterested with monarchs."
"Exactly what I was thinking this very minute," said Aramis. "Let us listen."
The king approached nearer to La Valliere, and as the rain dripped more and more through the foliage of the oak, he held his hat over the head of the young girl, who raised her beautiful blue eyes toward the royal hat which sheltered her, and shook her head, sighing deeply as she did so.
"What melancholy thought," said the king, "can possibly reach your heart when I place mine as a rampart before it?"
"I will tell you, sire. I had already once before broached this question, which is so difficult for a young girl of my age to discuss, but your majesty imposed silence on me. Your majesty belongs not to yourself alone, you are married; and every sentiment which would separate your majesty from the queen, in leading your majesty to take notice of me, will be a source of the profoundest sorrow for the queen." The king endeavored to interrupt the young girl, but she continued with a suppliant gesture. "The Queen Maria, with an attachment which can be so well understood, follows with her eyes every step of your majesty which separates you from her. Happy enough in having had her fate united to your own, she weepingly implores Heaven to preserve you to her, and is jealous of the faintest throb of your heart bestowed elsewhere." The king again seemed anxious to speak, but again did La Valliere venture to prevent him.—"Would it not, therefore, be a most blameable action," she continued, "if your majesty, a witness of this anxious and disinterested affection, gave the queen any cause for her jealousy? Forgive me, sire, for the expression I have used. I well know it is impossible, or rather that it would be impossible, that the greatest queen of the whole world could be jealous of a poor girl like myself. But, though a queen, she is still a woman, and her heart, like that of any of her sex, cannot close itself against the suspicions which such as are evilly disposed insinuate. For Heaven's sake, sire, think no more of me, I am unworthy of your regard."
"Do you know that in speaking as you have done you change my esteem for you into admiration?"
"Sire, you assume my words to be contrary to the truth; you suppose me to be better than I really am, and attach a greater merit to me than God ever intended should be the case. Spare me, sire; for, did I not know that your majesty was the most generous man in your kingdom, I should believe you were jesting."
"You do not, I know, fear such a thing; I am quite sure of that," exclaimed Louis.
"I shall be obliged to believe it, if your majesty continues to hold such language toward me."
"I am most unhappy, then," said the king, in a tone of regret which was not assumed: "I am the unhappiest prince in the whole Christian world, since I am powerless to induce belief in my words in one whom I love the best in the wide world, and who almost breaks my heart by refusing to credit my regard for her."
"Oh, sire!" said La Valliere, gently putting the king aside, who had approached nearer to her, "I think the storm has passed away now, and the rain has ceased." At the very moment, however, as the poor girl, fleeing, as it were, from her own heart, which doubtlessly throbbed too much in unison with the king's, uttered these words, the storm undertook to contradict her. A bluish flash of lightning illumined the forest with a wild, weird-like glare, and a peal of thunder, like a discharge of artillery, burst over their very heads, as if the height of the oak which sheltered them had attracted the storm. The young girl could not repress a cry of terror. The king with one hand drew her toward his heart, and stretched the other above her head, as though to shield her from the lightning. A moment's silence ensued, as the group, delightful as everything young and loving is delightful, remained motionless, while Fouquet and Aramis contemplated it in attitudes as motionless as La Valliere and the king. "Oh, sire, sire!" murmured La Valliere, "do you hear?" and her head fell upon his shoulder.
"Yes," said the king. "You see the storm has not passed away."
"It is a warning, sire." The king smiled. "Sire, it is the voice of Heaven in anger."
"Be it so," said the king. "I agree to accept that peal of thunder as a warning, and even as a menace, if, in five minutes from the present moment, it is renewed with equal violence; but if not, permit me to think that the storm is a storm simply, and nothing more." And the king, at the same moment, raised his head, as if to interrogate the heavens. But, as if the remark had been heard and accepted, during the five minutes which elapsed after the burst of thunder which had alarmed them no renewed repeal was heard; and when the thunder was again heard, it was passing away in so audible a manner, as if, during those same five minutes, the storm, put to flight, had traversed the heavens with the speed of the wings of the wind. "Well, Louise," said the king, in a low tone of voice, "will you still threaten me with the anger of Heaven? and, since you wished to regard the storm as a presentiment, will you still believe that presentiment to be one of misfortune?"
The young girl looked up, and saw that while they had been talking the rain had penetrated the foliage above them, and was trickling down the king's face. "Oh, sire, sire!" she exclaimed, in accents of eager apprehension, which greatly agitated the king. "It is for me," she murmured, "that the king remains thus uncovered, and exposed to the rain. What am I, then?"
"You are, you perceive," said the king, "the divinity who dissipates the storm, and brings back fine weather." In fact, a ray of sunlight streamed through the forest, and caused the rain-drops which rested upon the leaves, or fell vertically among the openings in the branches of the trees, to glisten like diamonds.
"Sire," said La Valliere, almost overcome, but making a powerful effort over herself, "think of the anxieties your majesty will have to submit to on my account. At this very moment they are seeking you in every direction. The queen must be full of uneasiness; and Madame—oh, Madame!" the young girl exclaimed, with an expression which almost resembled terror.
This name had a certain effect upon the king. He started, and disengaged himself from La Valliere, whom he had, till that moment, held pressed against his heart. He then advanced toward the path, in order to look round, and returned, somewhat thoughtfully, to La Valliere. "Madame, did you say?" he remarked.
"Yes, Madame; she, too, is jealous," said La Valliere, with a marked tone of voice; and her eyes, so timorous in their expression, and so modestly fugitive in their glance, for a moment ventured to look inquiringly in the king's eyes.
"Still," returned Louis, making an effort over himself, "it seems to me that Madame has no reason, no right to be jealous of me."
"Alas!" murmured La Valliere.
"Are you, too," said the king, almost in a tone of reproach, "are you among those who think the sister has a right to be jealous of the brother?"
"It is not for me, sire, to penetrate your majesty's secrets."
"You do believe it, then?" exclaimed the king.
"I do believe Madame is jealous, sire," La Valliere replied, firmly.
"Is it possible," said the king, with some anxiety, "that you have perceived it, then, from her conduct toward you? Have her manners in any way been such toward you that you can attribute them to the jealousy you speak of?"
"Not at all, sire; I am of so little importance."
"Oh! if it were really the case—" exclaimed Louis, violently.
"Sire," interrupted the young girl, "it has ceased raining; some one is coming, I think." And, forgetful of all etiquette, she had seized the king by the arm.
"Well," replied the king, "let them come. Who is there who would venture to think I had done wrong in remaining alone with Mademoiselle de la Valliere?"
"For pity's sake, sire! they will think it strange to see you wet through in this manner, and that you should have run such risk for me."
"I have simply done my duty as a gentleman," said Louis; "and woe to him who may fail in his, in criticising his sovereign's conduct." In fact, at this moment, a few eager and curious faces were seen in the walk, as if engaged in a search, and who, observing the king and La Valliere, seemed to have found what they were seeking. They were some of the courtiers who had been sent by the queen and Madame, and who immediately uncovered themselves, in token of having perceived his majesty. But Louis, notwithstanding La Valliere's confusion, did not quit his respectful and tender attitude. Then, when all the courtiers were assembled in the walk—when every one had been able to perceive the mark of deference with which he had treated the young girl, by remaining standing and bareheaded during the storm—he offered her his arm, led her toward the group who were waiting, recognized by an inclination of the head the respectful salutations which were paid him on all sides; and, still holding his hat in his hand, he conducted her to her carriage. And, as the rain still continued to fall—a last adieu of the disappearing storm—the other ladies, whom respect had prevented getting into their carriages before the king, remained, and altogether unprotected by hood and cloak, exposed to the rain from which the king, with his hat over her, was protecting, as much as he was able, the humblest among them. The queen and Madame must, like the others, have witnessed this exaggerated courtesy of the king. Madame was so disconcerted at it that she touched the queen with her elbow, saying at the same time, "Look there, look there!"
The queen closed her eyes, as if she had been suddenly seized with a fainting attack. She lifted her hand to her face and entered her carriage, Madame following her. The king again mounted his horse, and without showing a preference for any particular carriage-door, he returned to Fontainebleau, the reins hanging over his horse's neck, absorbed in thought. As soon as the crowd had disappeared, and the sound of the horses and carriages grew fainter in the distance, and when they were certain, in fact, that no one could see them, Aramis and Fouquet came out of their grotto, and both of them in silence passed slowly on toward the walk. Aramis looked most narrowly not only at the whole extent of the open space stretching out before and behind him, but even into the very depths of the wood.
"Monsieur Fouquet," he said, when he had quite satisfied himself that they were alone, "we must get back, at any cost, the letter you wrote to La Valliere."
"That will be easy enough," said Fouquet, "if my servant has not given it to her."
"In any case, it must be done; do you understand?"
"Yes; the king is in love with this girl, you mean?"
"Exceedingly so; and what is worse is that, on her side, the girl is passionately attached to the king."
"As much as to say that we must change our tactics, I suppose?"
"Not a doubt of it; you have no time to lose. You must see La Valliere, and, without thinking any more of becoming her lover, which is out of the question, must declare yourself her dearest friend and her most humble servant."
"I will do so," replied Fouquet, "and without the slightest feeling of disinclination, for she seems a good-hearted girl."
"Or a clever one," said Aramis; "but in that case the greater reason." Then he added, after a moment's pause, "If I am not mistaken, that girl will become the strongest passion of the king. Let us return to our carriage, and, as fast as possible, to the chateau."
Two hours after the surintendant's cortege had set off by Aramis' directions, conveying them both toward Fontainebleau with the fleetness of the clouds, which the last breath of the tempest was hurrying across the face of the heavens, La Valliere was closeted in her own apartment, with a simple muslin wrapper round her, having just finished a slight repast, which was placed upon a small marble table. Suddenly the door was opened, and a servant entered to announce M. Fouquet, who had called to request permission to pay his respects to her. She made him repeat the message twice over, for the poor girl only knew M. Fouquet by name, and could not conceive what she could possibly have to do with a surintendant of finances. However, as he might possibly come from the king—and, after the conversation we have recorded, it was very likely—she glanced at her mirror, drew out still more the long ringlets of her hair, and desired him to be admitted. La Valliere could not, however, refrain from a certain feeling of uneasiness. A visit from the surintendant was not an ordinary event in the life of any woman attached to the court. Fouquet, so notorious for his generosity, his gallantry, and his sensitive delicacy of feeling with regard to women generally, had received more invitations than he had requested audiences. In many houses the presence of the surintendant had been significant of fortune; in many hearts, of love. Fouquet entered the apartment with a manner full of respect, presenting himself with that ease and gracefulness of manner which was the distinctive characteristic of the men of eminence of that period, and which at the present day seems no longer to be understood, even in the portraits of the period in which the painter has endeavored to recall them into being. La Valliere acknowledged the ceremonious salutation which Fouquet addressed to her by a gentle inclination of the head and motioned him to a seat. But Fouquet, with a bow, said, "I will not sit down until you have pardoned me."
"I?" asked La Valliere; "pardoned what?"
Fouquet fixed a most piercing look upon the young girl, and fancied he could perceive in her face nothing but the most unaffected surprise. "I observe," he said, "that you have as much generosity as intelligence, and I read in your eyes the forgiveness I solicit. A pardon pronounced by your lips is insufficient for me, and I need the forgiveness of your heart and mind."
"Upon my honor, monsieur," said La Valliere, "I assure you most positively I do not understand your meaning."
"Again, that is a delicacy on your part which charms me," replied Fouquet, "and I see you do not wish me to blush before you."
"Blush! blush before me? Why should you blush?"
"Can I have deceived myself?" said Fouquet; "and can I have been happy enough not to have offended you by my conduct toward you?"
"Really, monsieur," said La Valliere, shrugging her shoulders, "you speak in enigmas, and I suppose I am too ignorant to understand you."
"Be it so," said Fouquet, "I will not insist. Tell me only, I entreat you, that I may rely upon your full and complete forgiveness."
"I have but one reply to make to you, monsieur," said La Valliere, somewhat impatiently, "and I hope that will satisfy you. If I knew the wrong you have done me, I would forgive you, and I would do so with still greater reason since I am ignorant of the wrong you allude to."
Fouquet bit his lips, as Aramis would have done. "In that case," he said, "I may hope that, notwithstanding what has happened, our good understanding will remain undisturbed, and that you will kindly confer the favor upon me of believing in my respectful friendship."
La Valliere fancied that she now began to understand, and said to herself, "I should not have believed M. Fouquet so eager to seek the source of a favor so very recent," and then added aloud, "Your friendship, monsieur! you offer me your friendship! The honor, on the contrary, is mine, and I feel overpowered by it."
"I am aware," replied Fouquet, "that the friendship of the master may appear more brilliant and desirable than that of the servant, but I assure you the latter will be quite as devoted, quite as faithful, and altogether disinterested."
La Valliere bowed, for, in fact, the voice of the surintendant seemed to convey both conviction and real devotion in its tone, and she held out her hand to him, saying, "I believe you."
Fouquet eagerly look hold of the young girl's hand. "You see no difficulty, therefore," he added, "in restoring me that unhappy letter?"
"What letter?" inquired La Valliere.
Fouquet interrogated her with his most searching gaze, as he had already done before, but the same innocent expression, the same candid look, met his. "I am obliged to confess," he said, after this denial, "that your system is the most delicate in the world, and I should not feel I was a man of honor and uprightness if I were to suspect anything from a woman so generous as yourself."
"Really, Monsieur Fouquet," replied La Valliere, "it is with profound regret I am obliged to repeat that I absolutely understand nothing of what you refer to."
"In fact, then, upon your honor, mademoiselle, you have not received any letter from me?"
"Upon my honor, none," replied La Valliere, firmly.
"Very well, that is quite sufficient; permit me, then, to renew the assurance of my utmost esteem and respect," said Fouquet. Then, bowing, he left the room to seek Aramis, who was waiting for him in his own apartment, and leaving La Valliere to ask herself whether the surintendant had not lost his senses.
"Well!" inquired Aramis, who was impatiently waiting Fouquet's return, "are you satisfied with the favorite?"
"Enchanted," replied Fouquet; "she is a woman full of intelligence and fine feeling."
"She did not get angry, then?"
"Far from that, she did not even seem to understand."
"To understand what?"
"To understand that I had written to her."
"She must, however, have understood you sufficiently to give the letter back to you, for I presume she returned it."
"Not at all."
"At least, you satisfied yourself that she had burned it."
"My dear Monsieur d'Herblay, I have been playing at cross purposes for more than an hour, and, however amusing it may be, I begin to have had enough of this game. So understand me thoroughly: the girl pretended not to understand what I was saying to her: she denied having received any letter; therefore, having positively denied its receipt, she was unable either to return or burn it."